The original Perry Mason series ran on the CBS Network for nine seasons, from 1957 to 1966. Frankly, I wish it were still on, in all of its black and white glory. Watching the newly released, four-DVD set Perry Mason: Season Eight; Volume One is a reminder of just how good television once was. Every one of the 15 episodes in this set are excellent, you never see the resolution of the mystery coming, but you do know that whoever Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) is defending is innocent.
That may be the one slight flaw in the series, the knowledge that Mason never lost a case. A lot of the people he defends are not exactly goody-two shoes though, and while they may not be guilty of murder, many are not exactly role-models either. I did get tripped up in the assumptions department during “The Case of the Ruinous Road.” This involved Mason’s associate Paul Drake (William Hopper). When Drake takes pains to describe a hard-drinking newspaperman as a “friend,” I instantly let him off the hook. After all, how could a friend of Drake’s be involved in a murder?
Mason’s loyal secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) gets a bit of the spotlight during “The Case of the Blonde Bonanza.” Typically, we see Della taking dictation or delivering important telephone information to Perry, and she is almost always in the background. During “The Case of the Blonde Bonanza,” she is quite involved as the “Blond Bonanza” in question is the niece of a friend who has just moved to Los Angeles. It is funny watching Della exercising and dieting to try and compete with the young, beautiful girl, but the story itself is heartbreaking.
The show rarely gives much of a nod to the times. Once in a while, Perry or Paul will find themselves at a gathering of kids who are playing for what passes for rock n’ roll, which is generally pretty bland. In “The Case of the Frustrated Folksinger” we get a full-on (if two years behind the times) look at the folk music scene. Bing Crosby’s son Gary Crosby is a guest star in this one, as the owner of a happenin’ folk club, where Perry’s client is working.
These original, black and white Perry Mason programs have been popular in syndication since the series went off the air in 1966. I had probably seen all of these episodes before, at one time or another. I must say that I really cannot get enough of them though. Even though the series was somewhat formulaic, it was a pretty good formula. The set’s running time is just under 13 hours, and whenever I got bored with regular TV, I just watched another Perry Mason episode. To this day, it is one of the great television shows of all time, and they were still riding high in this, the next to last season of the series.